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Random Idea Generation Methods. 1. The Reverse and Twist

Sometimes, I just need an idea to play with. I may need a starting point for a new project, or some color and side-thoughts for a bigger ongoing work. Often I just generate new random ideas as a palate-cleanser when I need a break from something I am grinding on. Other times I want to throw ideas out to other people, either for fun or to jump-start their creative processes.

Now if I am lucky, a random idea just comes to me when I need it. Or, if one comes when I don’t need it, I can jot it down with just enough detail to come pick it back up later.

But more often than not, i have to generate an idea, and when i have to come up with dozens at a time, I have verious methods I use to do that. Here’s one”

Reverse/Twist The Starting Point

This is one of my favorites, and it’s a good way to use inspiration without turning everything into a pastiche (or rip-off). The basic idea is to take the core premise of an existing setting or story you like, and make a major change to it. Then, you follow the permutations of your new set-up.

For example, take Moby Dick. It’s a captain’s obsession with getting revenge on a whale. It’s compelling, but it’s also been done and redone hundreds of times. So, what if we reverse a number of elements.

Our Captain is still a whale hunter, but he has not a care in the world. The Red Demon, which may or may not be a whale but is certainly a sea creature, seeks to destroy the captain as revenge for the captain slaying the Demon’s mother. We still have stories of obsession and revenge, but now our focal human point is ignoring the risks, his arrogance convincing him that even if the Red Demon is real, it’s a brute animal, and he has all the advantages of human civilization and intellect to overcome it if it ever finds him.

Now, the inspiration for that idea are pretty clear. That’s fine–the starting place of a story, setting, or even writing prompt is only a small part of the work of making something. But once you have that nugget, you can twist and add/alter as you see fit. Instead of a whale-hunting captain hunting you could have a famous ivory poacher, clearly a villain and an up-and-coming local warlord–who does worry about human threats (and perhaps kidnaps a journalist to tell “his side” of his story, giving us our narrator), but ignores local legends of a Red Demon elephant out to get him, even when other poachers are slain by it.

The further we get from the trappings of the original idea, the more our end product will be clearly its own thing.

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Otherworld: A Mode for Wayward

One of my Shower Projects recently (things I only spend time thinking about while showering, making lunch, and so on) has been what my Modes (pocket parallel worlds that overlap with the “normal” world of the Ecumene may look like in the  Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

I’ll want my Modes to be distinct, different, yet feel like they belong in the same sets of stories. Two have already suggested themselves to me.

The first of those is Otherworld, a mode where creatures from various afterlife mythologies (Valkyries, angels, devils, ghosts, and so on) live and interact in a version of the modern world where every town, or every neighborhood in big cities, has a single distinct character. Svanrcroft is tall stone buildings, broad, tree-filled lanes, and massive rock municipal buildings and concert halls; Latssvin is another neighborhood in the same city across the river from Svanrcroft, and is entirely rusting steel, cracked concrete towers, and brutalist sprawls with homes and businesses and offices crammed in with little rhyme or reason.

Each of these distinct neighborhoods is controlled by one afterlife group that serve much like some combination of street gangs, neighborhood watches, local beat cops, organized crime, and community centers. Major otherworld creatures mostly believe they are agents of divine beings, getting their “orders” from what appear to be entirely random sources — the Valkyries of Svanrcroft believe they receive orders from Freyja in the form of messages written on Brísingamen-brand food and drink packages, but to anyone else they just seem to be random, common commercial quotes.

Common citizens of the Otherworld are shades of Ecumene folk who have died, living agelessly in very much the condition they were in shortly before they died (though obviously ways to get better if sick, or younger if old, will be major potential plot drivers for Otherworld adventures featuring shades). The status of shades within Otherworld influences how they are remembered in Ecumene — a great writer whose shade has suffered misfortune and poverty within the Otherworld slowly loses their place of relevance and fame in Ecumene.

When major forces from Otherworld influence Ecumene, they tend to be voices heard by Ecumene commoners, who are driven into zealotry. A single Otherworld creature may be occasionally whispering to dozens of Ecumeners , or be spending vast amounts of time influencing a single person. Those affected are encouraged to perform acts, rituals, or influence world events in Ecumene that grant an Otherworld faction more prestige, power, and territory within Otherworld. Left unchecked, Ecumeners under Otherworld influence become Zealots, and begin to actually be able to bring tiny bits of Otherworld (and its Mode rules) into corners of Ecumene.

Within Otherworld, heroics are commonplace and easy, spellcasting is hard. This will be handled with some combination of special rules for stunt points — something like, whenever you reference the value of the stunt die (including when you roll doubles and need to determine the number of stunt points you get) you use the highest value die of your roll, rather than the stunt die–and special hindrances for spellcasting.

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Appendix O: The Ladies’ Sewing Circle

This is a group I have put in a few ttRPG homebrewed worlds, brought forth from the old files of my hardrive.

The Ladies’ Sewing Circle is, on the surface, simply a regular gathering for women of different backgrounds and social classes to get together and sew. Officially, the purpose is to trade sewing tips and tricks, and perhaps combine efforts on larger projects, and the cross-class nature of the circle is promoted as a way to ensure the important skill of sewing is not allowed to degrade within a culture, and to act as a back-channel for issues to be shared from member to member. Usually any woman of good standing may attend, picking up sewing skills if she doesn’t already have them, and gatherings are hosted by senior members. Where those members have space under their control, such as a dressmaker with a shop or a lady with a manor she can use, the meetings are private. In other cases, they occur in public meadows, or the town square, or a barn borrowed from a farmer in return for one new quilt a year.

But beyond that official and public purpose, the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is actually a powerful equalizing force with society. The senior and full members can communicate through stitch-speech and sewing patterns kept secret for generations, allowing them to talk secretly while in full view. And when the Sewing Circle comes to a consensus that an issue would be solved by someone dying, that person is assassinated.

Most Sewing Circles have a few different assassins working for them. Often these are members of he Circle itself, with a few women usually trained in slitting throats and choking foes, as well as stealthcraft. Less commonly, the Sewing Circle may outsource their killing, generally to a trusted ally (sons, daughters, brothers, aunts, and uncles of members are all common choices) who may have had their assassin training and gear paid for my the Circle. In cultures where some specific method is seen as a woman’s way to kill (such as poison, summoning magic, or archery), that method is least-used by the Circle just to ensure suspicion doesn’t fall on other women inappropriately.

Most Sewing Circles keep their assassination rate quite low, less than one per year, though in more dangerous or higher-population areas they may well feel comfortable doing more. When extrajudicial killing is not needed, their resources turn toward spying, exposing secrets detrimental to the public good, and information gathering. Since each ladies’ Sewing Circle is self-government, their methods can vary wildly. Some never resort to assassination, depending on rational discourse and gentle cultural pressure to achieve their ends. Others prefer to used late-night warning visits to push public figures towards more desirable behavior. Others ruthlessly kill, and main and steal, as needed to carry out their goals.

In all cases, the Sewing Circle is publicly well-insolated from all its actions. It’s commonly known that the members talk among themselves, and thus their opinions are spread to multiple households. Wise local authority figures see a Circle as a place to make announcements and receive feedback, even without any inkling that the members may be actively engaged in shadow actions. But any hint that a Sewing Circle is some kind of politically active group that has resources beyond needle and thread is considered laughable.

It’s important to note that this concept can be applied to any group that isn’t normally already gathering to make law and enforce their will, and have some excuse to do so that the powerful members of the culture approve of. In an absolute monarchy, you could have the Noble’s Hunting Lodge, where nobles gather to arrange hunts and other entertainments for the Royal’s amusement. In a rigidly hierarchal church you could have the Incensor’s Affiliation, where the lowest-ranked acolytes discuss incense-management and cleaning. In a totalitarian nation you might have the Rulekeepers, common folk who specifically get together to go over how the government wants them to behave. In High School you might have the Extra Study Club, where students gather to tutor one another in a display of self-motivation.

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Appendix O – Ragabonds

I originally presented the idea of Ragabonds, a form of fantasy migrant culture not built directly off any real-world society or group, in a series of Twitter posts. But some people asked if I had compiled them, so here they are. 🙂

Ragabonds

No one knows the Ragabond Rules’ origin, which state that Ragabond kithpacts must be allowed to travel freely. While many kingdoms that follow the rules allow nearly anyone to travel freely if they didn’t otherwise cause trouble, the Ragabond Rules are respected by numerous tyrannies, totalitarian theocracies, even dragons and devils.

The Ragabond Rules predate the elven empire of Te Astra, the Pact of Akkesh, and even the Tarsian Palatinate, but are not as old as the Jotunlaw or Drakkenjar. Further, while no divination can reveal any reason why, rulers who violate them tend to come to bad ends.

Thus for centuries, Ragabond Kithpacts have wondered freely through lands blessed and cursed, rich and poor, bright and dark. If they interfere in local matters individual Ragabonds lose their protection, but are still excellent sources of trade and news. Of course the Ragabond Kithpacts also have restrictions imposed by the Rules. None may band themselves in armors, gather in numbers more than 120, or be in sight of the same drop of water, green of plant or pinch of earth for more than 90 days or each year. Freedom costs stability.

Each Kithpact addresses these needs in their own way. Some form caravans of pachyderm-carried houdahs, or horse-drawn carriages, or well-laden mules and horses. Others travel in small fleets of nimble boats, or exist as walking nomads, carrying all that they own on their own backs or in travois.

Most Kithpacts have a route they travel over 2-3 years, ensuring they never risk overstaying their time in one place. Even so, these often take them through many different lands, leading each Kithpact to pick up some notes of multiple societies and cultures. A Kithpact is likely to have drawn music, art, language, mysticism, religion, stories, crafts, lore, and traditions from many lands–some from their current route, others from lands traveled centuries ago. Only adherence to the Rules themselves unite all Ragabonds.

Every few years, numerous Kithpacts will gather in a land that allows such things, sometimes called a Pactdom. this is a time of great celebration, but also a risk. As soon as more than 120 Ragabonds are in one place, the Ragabond Rules no longer protect them.While each Kithpact is unique, those of one Pactdom are often similar, and may answer to a single Ragabond Matron, or a Council of Caravan Masters, or the Bishop of Rags. These governments are separate from the Ragabond Rules, but no less rulers of their citizens than any landed nobility.

Most Kithpacts are made up of the same peoples as the lands they travel, and recruit new Ragabonds when their numbers are low. Multiple ancestries and ethnicities are often found within one Kithpact, and their bloodlines are as intermingled as all their culture. Freedom is crucial to all Ragabonds, and the willingness to give up nearly everything to be free is the one thing that is common to all of them. A Ragabond that lacks that drive eventually leaves their Kithpact, and settles down in one place.

Ragabonds are often misunderstood by the cultures they interact with, but not more or less than other foreign lands. They may be seen as flighty for not setting down, or shameless for having little room for modesty, or evil for mixing multiple traditions and religions together. For some Pactkiths, these things are largely true. For others, they aren’t. For many, it depends on the Rangabond. But Ragabonds all have advantages in wide perspective and eclectic training, because they move freely through lands where others dare not, or cannot.

The Rules

The Ragabond Rules state that Ragabonds must be free to travel, trade, talk, sing, craft, perform, and be free of harm or harassment.

These protections last only as long as the Ragabonds themselves do not violate the Rules, requiring them to wear no armor, gather in no number greater than 120, and to take to action to harm the bodily person, wit, or livelihood or any they encounter unless the Ragabond believes doing so is mandatory to keep their own body, wit, or livelihood secure, and even then only in even and minimal measure. This doesn’t mean Ragabonds are all pacifist or vegetarian (though some are). A hungry Ragabond is free to hunt if needful to nourish themselves, and free to study fighting and use it whenever threatened if they fear there is no hope for peaceful safety.

The Ragabond Rules also require Ragabonds to shun for a year and a day any of their own they find to have broken the Rules willfully or foolishly. Those shunned spend that time unprotected by the Rules, though they may (or may not) still travel with their Kithpact.

Ragabonds are treated with suspicion in major towns and cities in Merothia, but seen as trade and news lifelines in smaller towns and villages–though if local youth choose to become Ragabonds themselves rather than aid in their parent’s farms and shops, that can breed ill-will with the abandoned families. Older empires tend to see them as annoyances–not a danger, and not worth struggling against, but not a group you are happy to see walk down the road. Less established groups and marginalized people often welcome Ragabonds as kindred in their lack of towns and walls, though this feeling isn’t always reciprocal.

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Building New Things That Feel Iconic

I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.

I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.

I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.

For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:

Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.

The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.

Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.

As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.

But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂

Image

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Formatting the Drop-In Town, Part 1

A lot of ttRPG projects I am working on right now call for a way to present information on a town setting designed to be dropped into any game. Most publicly know is “Little Hamlet of Villago” for the soon-to-be-rebranded-as 52 x 4 subscription service. There are also some Age Creator’s Alliance stuff I have in various hands with similar needs, and then things on the list off entirely-theoretical future projects.

So, I have been trying to figure out how I want these settings to present info for the GM. The idea is that these can be used as bases of operation for PCs, or waystops that anchor adventures, or as places to explore, or just items in a big sandbox. That means they need to have enough detail to be useful for GMs just wanting details to play off of and offer enough ideas for a GM and/or exploring players to interact with, but also flexible enough to fit other story ideas and worldbuilding elements in with the town’s material.

When I’m trying to create game information formats like this, I find doing some practice builds a useful form of outlining.

So, visual elements can help things like this a lot, so I’d want each Drop-In Village to have a village-scale map. For purposes of a test case, here’s one available for free commercial use from Dyson Logos, “Appletree Pond.”

Map of Appletree Pond by Dyson Logos

It’s a great map, and it would need a scale, labels for road names and numbers for the buildings and locations of note, but that’s easy to add. It’s also useful to think about, because linking those tags to the text they match is going to be important.

Ideally, key buildings would also have both a map of their layout, and art of their exterior appearance. Obviously that would be more expensive than most projects can justify, but let’s pretend we’re doing it for the moment. Again, for this example I’ll grab a Dyson Logos map of an appropriate building, though it may not perfectly match my map outline.

Map of Twin Norkers by Dyson Logos

Both exterior and interior art can help give the feel of a place. I’m not going to order custom work for a test case, but you can do a lot with stock art. Here’s a good exterior art piece to use for Twin Norkers, even if it’s not a perfect match of the map’s details.

Art by ratpack223

I don’t think I’d ever want to give a interior map, exterior art, and interior art of the same location unless there was some good adventure-driven reason to do so, but let’s pretend I would. Here’s a shot of the Twin Norker’s dining room.

Art by Unholy Vault Designs

So, before I even get to the text, I can see if I use all these options I’m going to be looking at 2-3 pages of info for a single location, which may well crowd out the setting and game information a GM needs.

One thing learned, I’ll leave this thought experiment here and talk about presenting text info next time.

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Fighting Fire (Elementals) with Fire (Damage)

Heya folks! Gaming veteran and cartooning luminary Stan! wrote a response-with-counterproposals to my blog from last Friday, which I am delighted to present to you here as another Guest Blog!

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

On Friday, Owen wrote an interesting and provocative post suggesting that Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire. As so often is the case, I was gobsmacked by the brilliance of this simple game design heresy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like the idea would be improved with a little tweak. When I brought it up to Owen he said, “Fine … write it up!”

Damn it, Owen!

Demons and Devils

Owen’s first suggestion was that since demons and devils were placed in Hell as punishment for their evil natures, it makes sense for they themselves to share the eternal torment that the souls they tend suffer. His suggestion was that these creatures are merely immune from being DESTROYED by hellfire because they are immortal spirits. While that made some sense to me, it also made me wonder why in that case they wouldn’t be eternally on the EDGE of death, burned to near cinders but unable to succumb.

My counterproposal: In addition to being unable to be killed by fire damage, demons, devils, and other similar creatures get a new trait so that at the start of their turn, they heal all fire damage they have suffered. That way they are fresh at the start of each turn, and then get burned all over again. And if you target them with spells or other sources of fire damage, they have to take that too … they just can’t die from it, and they’ll heal it all back when their turn comes along.

In Their Element

The second half of Owen’s pitch was that Fire Elementals not be immune to fire in the same way that we creatures of flesh are not immune to fists, suggesting instead that they are adapted to their natural habitat and “see routes through the flames” so as to avoid taking damage. I suppose partly this comes down to how one envisions the Plane of Fire, but for me there are no routes “through the flames,” they are omnipresent. And my interpretation of creatures native to that plane is that they are cozy and comfortable when in the presence of natural occurrences of their element (sitting in a campfire is like a soothing bath for a Fire Elemental, likewise a Water Elemental is total at home in any amount of water).

My counterproposal: While elementals are sanguine when faced with their natural substance, they are still vulnerable to magical, chemical, and alchemical variations of it. So a fire elemental could be fine fighting in the middle of a burning house, but it’d take damage just like anyone else might from a <ital>fire bolt, fireball,</ital> or burning oil. It would be impossible, of course, to set a fire elemental on fire for ongoing damage … but the initial blast or splash sure hurts.

Patreons!

You can support Stan!’s Patreon here!

And, as always, you can support Owen K.C. Stephens’s Patreon here!

Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire

In a lot of ttRPGs, a whole slew of creatures are immune to fire damage. Most commonly, demons/devils, and things from the elemental plane of fire.

The logic goes, demons and devils live in some kind of fiery hell. But most fantasy mythologies have them put there as punishment. Why put them someplace they are immune to?

Similarly, a fire elemental is said to be immune to fire because is it made of fire. But I’m made of flesh and bone, and a leather-wrapped femur slapped upside my head damages me just fine. Slap me with a side of beef and I show no sign of being immune to it.

Now, you DO want these creatures to be able to exist in their environments, but that need not make them immune to a common form of damage, and classically one of the things you CAN use against monsters in fantasy fiction. Demons and devil may be immune to being destroyed in Hell because they are immortal spirits, but they can still burn and suffer, making their existence damnation, Fire elementals can be given an ability to see the routes through the plane of fire, escaping burning not because they are made of fire, but because they are adapted to their environment.

So, since people aren’t immune to damage from being hit by the things they are made of:

Fire elementals should not be immune to fire.

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Guest Blog: Darrin Drader Talks Rathorn

Heya folks!

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. The first one is by Darrin Drader, who I have known (and occasionally worked with) for around 20 years.

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

Introduction

Owen has invited me here to his blog to talk about my new Patreon project—Rathorn: Savage Adventures. In the interest of brevity, I’ll get the link out of the way right now: https://www.patreon.com/Rathorn Also in the interest of brevity, I’ll specify that it’s pronounced Ra-thorn, not Rat-horn. The entry tier for patronage is $3 a month, and what you get for backing is a monthly novella, or episode, consisting of a minimum of 50 novel-length pages. There are higher backer tiers for those who are interested. The first payment will come out on June 1st, at which time the first two episodes will be posted. You will have access to both at that time, and then you will gain access to one new episode per month.

Origins of Barbarism

Early this year, Jason Eric Nelson of Legendary Games invited me to write a 5e compatible supplement called Battlemasters & Berserkers. It just so happened that this aligned with a fiction project I was already working on. The two went together perfectly, so of course I accepted the offer. The fiction is Rathorn: Savage Adventures, a novella consisting of six chapters and about 20,000 words, or roughly sixty novel-length pages, and it was made available as a Kickstarter add-on. It did pretty well too.

The cover of Rathorn: Savage Adventures

An alternate “collector’s” cover.

That was never intended to be a standalone piece. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story first.

One of my best friends introduced me to D&D back in 1984. I was eleven years old at the time, and to say I was absolutely blown away by the game would be an understatement (I would later work for Wizards of the Coast, and work on several titles for D&D, including the Book of Exalted Deeds, Forgotten Realms: Serpent Kingdoms, Forgotten Realms: Mysteries of the Moonsea, and more articles than I can remember). Rathorn was a barbarian character dreamed up in the fall of 1988 shortly before a gaming convention in Spokane, Washington. By that time I was already reading and being heavily influenced by D&D tie-in fiction, so I began writing stories about him and his half-elven sometimes companion named Whisperfoot. By the time I graduated from high school and moved on to other things, I had filled a three-ring binder with stories.

Now obviously, those stories weren’t publishable. I’ve worked on my fiction for my entire life, and I didn’t publish any of it until about ten years ago. It’s a skill that takes a long time to develop, and in all honesty, a lot of people who try their hand at it find it much more difficult than expected. Anyway, I’ve always rather liked the characters, and sometimes considered doing something more with them. I made a Facebook post a while back, and none other than Peter Adkison chimed in and encouraged me to lean into it and do something new with the characters (I mean, who am I to argue with the man who started Wizards of the Coast?). What I ended up deciding to do is rewrite those stories from scratch—and I really mean scratch, because that three-ring binder ended up not making a move several years ago. In truth, these aren’t going to be faithful replications of the original stories. I’m thirty years older now than I was then, so these will be reimagined from a more mature and experienced point of view.

The Barbarian Sub-Genre

The promotional blurb for the Patreon reads as follows:

He came from the northern barbarian clans to claim vengeance against those who stole from his village and killed his best friend. But once entered, leaving civilization is far from easy. A hundred years removed from the fall of the Androsan Empire, fortunes are forged on the plunder of ruin, while lords from across the lands plot to reclaim lost glories, and death is merely is one blade away. These are the tales of Rathorn (Ra-thorn). Warrior. Barbarian. Adventurer.

If the premise sounds a bit like another barbarian from the golden age of pulp, you aren’t completely off-base. Then again, there’s something timeless and universal about that character archetype, which is one of the reasons Barbarian is a class in the Player’s Handbook. Currently, that famous  mighty-thewed warrior is making a comeback via Marvel comics, and a new TV show in the works for Amazon original programming. But there are other barbarian characters in fiction, such as Skharr the Death Eater by the excellent Michael Anderle, who will soon be releasing his sixth book in the series. Others include Wulfgar by R.A. Salvatore, Cohen by Terry Pratchett, Fafhrd by Fritz Leiber, Stoick the Vast by Cressida Cowell, and of course Khal Drogo from George R.R. Martin. In other words, barbarians are a full sub-genre of fantasy literature unto themselves.

The Patreon Model

The Patreon model of fiction challenges both readers and writers to reimagine fiction as being more like a TV show than a movie. Traditional novel publishers used to restrict authors to one book per year, even if the authors are more prolific than that. In that way, novels are sort of like movies. They have high production values, they come out at a slow pace, and they tend to do things you can’t do in TV (though due to higher budgets and more affordable special effects, this is becoming less and less the case all the time).

By comparison, the short story can best be described as a tempest in a teacup. They’re so short that they’re meant to be read in one sitting. They are often published in magazines or anthologies, which means they don’t get their own covers. Also, due to the fact that they’re submitted to multiple outlets, the same author’s stories often have little to no continuity. In other words, while they’re their own art form, short stories aren’t the best type of vehicle for telling a continuing story. They aren’t like a TV show or a movie. Maybe they’re best likened to a short film.

The novella is a bit of a hybrid between the two, and it’s what an episode of Rathorn is. At 20,000 words, most people aren’t going to read the whole thing in one sitting. In fact, each novella is about a quarter the length of your average novel. Each one tells its own story, but it’s easy to string them together to tell a larger story over time. They can have unique covers, but like traditional TV shows with reliably consistent opening credits, they might all share one cover, each only differing in the title of that episode.

I first experimented with the continuing six chapter novella when I started writing Star Trek fanfic (yes, professional writers do sometimes write fanfic. Sometimes they even do it under their own names). The idea was to imitate a single episode of Star Trek in terms of scope and content in prose fiction. I ended up being very pleased with the final result, as were my readers, who found it to be long and meaty enough to be a satisfying read, while not being so long that they might give up on it because it’s too long or something new catches their attention.

As it turns out, the novella is the perfect length for Patreon because unlike a novel, it’s entirely possible to do the writing, get it through editing, and release one on a monthly schedule. Don’t get me wrong. It’s also possible to write a novel in a month—I wrote Nuclear Sunset: Legacy of Ruin in three weeks—but doing that consistently every month is very difficult. In fact, the only person I know who managed a schedule like that is Matt Forbeck, who ran a Kickstarter, earned enough to take a year off of his day job, and released one novel each month.

The World

Rathorn doesn’t exist in your typical Howard inspired sword and sorcery setting where civilization is almost always wicked and magic is inherently evil. Rathorn is very much a part of The Cobalt Kingdoms, which is a 5e setting I’ve been slowly developing over the past several years. While it does draw on some ancient world motifs, it’s closer to your baseline D&D setting. In fact, the setting itself is one of the important features here.

This is a sneak peak of the current unfinished map of the northwest corner of the Cobalt Kingdoms

As someone who used to greatly enjoy Forgotten Realms fiction, I was pretty disappointed when Wizards of the Coast decided to mostly stop publishing tie-in fiction. My goal with Cobalt Kingdoms is to create a new shared world. In other words, once the campaign setting is out, it will be open. Other writers and publishers will be able to create their own gaming products and fiction royalty free. If they follow the content guidelines and it’s of professional quality, their works can become recognized as canon.

The Puppy Dog Close

For those of you who have never done sales, the puppy dog close is where you basically beg the customer to buy the product you’ve been demoing. You say things like, “Hey, I really need this sale because I’m under my sales goal for the month, my boss is threatening to fire me, I have a kid at home and I really need to pay the rent. Whether that was actually true varied from salesperson to salesperson, but it is a remarkably effective closing technique.

So here’s my story. Three years ago I started my own small business in my hometown which happens to be seasonal. Covid has completely shut it down. In fact, there’s a very good chance it’s not going to reopen at this point. Our finances are not looking good. I have a wife and kids at home, including a five-year –old daughter, and an autistic stepson who is extremely low on the spectrum. Right now, writing is the only source of income I have, and because I’m a freelancer, it varies from month to month. This Patreon is my attempt to achieve a steady, regular income from the one thing I’m good at—writing. If you’re reading this and you can spare the cost of one cheeseburger a month in exchange for a regular dose of fantasy fiction, I would be forever grateful to you.

Patreons!

You can support Darrin Drader’s Rathorn Patreon here!

And, as always, you can support Owen K.C. Stephens’s Patreon here!

Modes for Wayward, a Potential Setting for AGE Creator’s Alliance

Some more thoughts about the Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

So, one of the core conceits of Wayward is that there are “modes,” which represent adjacent realities to the (mostly) normal world, or Ecumene, where PCs call home. Things from other modes can influence, or even partially leak into the Ecumene, causing trouble and pain, but cannot be permanently destroyed except in their native mode.

Luckily, there are the Wayward, people native to the Ecumene who can travel to other modes to deal with things found there. Most modes are twisted parallels of the Ecumene, familiar in some respects and terribly (sometimes horrifically) different on others. Modes are all dangerous, even deadly, but just as things from other Modes (I’ll need a name for “things from other modes” at some point) can’t be permanently destroyed while in the Ecumene, PCs native to the Ecumene cannot be permanently destroyed while corporeally in another mode. However, that doesn’t mean being Put Down in another mode does hurt… and leave scars that stick with you whatever Mode you are in.

I’m using the term “Mode” so far, because I want to treat these alternate realities in roughly the same way Modern Age treats its different Modes of Play (gritty, pulpy, cinematic). So while the Ecumene itself is gritty, the laws of reality on others may be pulpy or cinematic, AND have other local rules changes to represent their altered rules of reality. That might not be a good enough reason to stick with “Mode” in the final term (‘demesne” comes to mind as having the right feel, for example), but it’s definitely good enough as a placeholder name for a in-progress game concept for a campaign using a working title.

Since there are likely going to be options that work differently in different modes [like having a Fiery heart talent might just give you a bonus to Willpower (Confidence) checks in the Ecumene, but allow you to actually summon fire magic within the Otherworld Mode), the rules are going to assume there are a finite number of “core” modes. A GM building a new mode should either make it an offshoot of one of the core modes (perhaps in addition to Otherworld, there is a very Nordic Helvangr which has different creatures and powers and appearance, but follows the same game mechanical rules as Otherworld.

That of course means the core modes I include in the campaign setting are important to the overall success of the setting, and need to be diverse, iconic, compelling, and fun.

So, no pressure.

I already foresee having at least two, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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